By Jason MacNeil
(New album What About Now released March 12, Canadian tour dates: Calgary (April 2), Edmonton (April 3), Winnipeg (April 5))

Only a handful of artists worldwide can claim they’ve actually played intimate dates in 20,000 seat arenas. But for Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, this current North American arena trek on the group’s Because We Can world tour before summer stadium dates is just that.

“It makes an arena feel like a club,” Sambora says Thursday afternoon before a St. Louis gig that night. “When you’re a musician it doesn’t matter if you’re playing for 20 people or 20,000 or whatever it is. You bring the same passion to what you do. It’s just one of those things. I’ve played in clubs where there were 10 or 20 people sometimes on a Monday or Tuesday night but maybe they were important, maybe they were record company people. Whoever was in the audience you were trying to play your heart out. So that’s what we do, that’s part of our job.”

He also says the excitement of sauntering onstage has never dissipated despite being three decades into the band’s career.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and every time I walk onstage I just go, ‘For me again?’” he says. “It’s unbelievable. It’s been happening for a long time now and I have a lot of gratitude and reverence for my opportunity.”

Bon Jovi released its twelfth studio album What About Now earlier this week (March 12) but Sambora was a “busy boy” the last twelve months between the band album and his solo effort Aftermath Of The Lowdown. After writing for his own record “Jon called and said let’s start writing” which led to the new album. But between completing the album and this current tour Sambora squeezed in his own solo trek.

He also says the new album wasn’t all that challenging to create.

“We’ve certainly learned how to shift our feelings to songs over the years,” Sambora says. “It’s been a long time that we’ve been doing this so it’s not really that hard for us anymore. We’ve been a band for so long it doesn’t surprise me when we do anything well. I think it would surprise me if we did something that wasn’t good at this point. We’ve essentially learned how to do all of it pretty well I believe. I think that’s why people come out to see us play.”

Bon Jovi also kicked off the tour six weeks before the album came out, essentially giving the new material a trial by fire. Sambora says so far it’s been great playing nearly three-hour gigs with plenty of songs to choose from.

On Thursday night the band also appeared on American Idol, performing with last year’s winner Phillip Phillips during the telecast.

“I’m a fan of Idol,” Sambora says. “Idol nowadays is one of those places where actually quality stars come from. You can actually find someone who’s going to come out of that (and) that’s going to be on the radio or in a concert hall like Carrie Underwood. It’s always a pleasure to be on the show with young musicians that are trying to make it. It’s kind of hopeful. Any of those shows out there that are trying to give young musicians a chance to make records and have a career I’m behind all the way.”

It’s a far different music industry now than the one Sambora, Jon Bovi Jovi, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan entered back in 1984 with their self-titled debut. The guitarist says if Bon Jovi were starting out now they would have a tough time.

“With the whole advent of the social media thing it’s harder for new bands to make it because of all the file-sharing that’sBon Jovi (L-R) Richie Sambora, Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan going on,” he says. “Being in a band you know you’ve got to make some money, people have to support families. I think for new bands it’s harder to keep it up because of that reason. I think they’re losing an income stream right there from albums and songwriting and production. That money is essentially for some people 75 per cent gone. It’s hard to get a leg up when you’re just starting out and trying to move that way.”

Sambora says there’s a good chance Bon Jovi will play shows in 2014 but nothing has been confirmed. As for any possible 30th anniversary plans to celebrate the band’s debut record, he says “I’m sure we’ll start to talk about that” although some fans feel this year marks the 30th as they formed in 1983.
The band also hasn’t forgotten about the victims of Hurricane Sandy as Sambora says he’s pretty sure there will be ways to help out the band’s stomping grounds of New Jersey that was ravaged by the storm.

“People are still pretty messed up down there,” he says. “It’s really bad. I visited places I used to go as a kid and hang out and they’re decimated. It’s going to take some time to rebuild the state. And Governor Christie is doing a really good job, really proud of him. He’s really, really on it. But it’s still going to take a while, they got to rebuild. So I’m sure there’s going to be other opportunities to help people down there. It’s our home state and that’s what you do.”

Perhaps the only thing left to check off Sambora’s to-do list this week is a chance to listen to People, Hell & Angels, the recently released (and posthumous) album by Jimi Hendrix. Sambora was a huge fan of the guitarist growing up.
“No I have not,” he says with a touch a regret in his voice when asked if he’s heard it. “I’ve been quite busy doing interviews for this record and travelling on tour but I am a huge Hendrix fan and I can’t wait to get my mitts on it. It’s always interesting to hear what Jimi was doing and what he had cooking. He always had that tape player running in the studio and that was a very smart thing.”

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